Based on the impromptu poll during the sermon, only a handful of people had ever heard a sermon on celibacy before. But if we’re going to talk about God’s design for relationships, we’d better give it some attention. Both Jesus and Paul, the most prominent people of the New Testament, address the matter. Not only do they address it, but they also lived it, which seems important.
Fundamental to what it means to be a Christian is that we trust Jesus to be the fully human human, AND while he was on earth, he never married, had a romantic relationship, or had sex. Apparently, those aren’t necessary ingredients to being fully human.
Given Christ’s path and Paul’s path (also celibate), many have decided that celibacy is the best path to spiritual formation and the most faithful way to be active participants in the reign of God.
As for the Corinthian text itself, it’s not simply about celibacy. It also addresses singleness—the status of being unmarried, yet open to marriage. Paul extols that station in life because those who are unmarried can have “unhindered devotion to the Lord.” They can have interests that are “undivided,” can “please the Lord,” and can be “holy in body and spirit.” Paul was not opposed to marriage by any means, but he sure did think singleness presented a better opportunity to focus on the Lord and serving the Lord.
Most Christians would affirm that both marriage and celibacy are “icons” for God’s future—i.e., we can look through them to a greater, mysterious, divine reality. The former (marriage) presents the picture of God being united with his bride, the church. We’ll look at those texts in coming Sundays. The latter (celibacy) represents the reality that marriage is an earthly institution and will not carry over into eternity we’ll all be single in the kingdom come (Matthew 22:30). By foregoing marriage now, celibacy is a way of both anticipating this reality and testifying to its goodness. It is radically counter-cultural. In our sex-crazed culture, celibacy is absolute foolishness. Yet, it testifies powerfully to the Gospel!
There’s a lot more that Drew said, but this is a good place to jump to the implications of 1 Cor. 7 and Matthew 19. Drew mentioned two:
First, this affects how we view being unmarried. It is not some sort of lower station in life. It is a gift to be stewarded in the same way marriage is a gift to be stewarded. We have amazing freedom for ministry when we are single (unhindered devotion to the Lord ~ 1 Cor. 7:35). And even though singleness is a gift, it can also be accompanied by great loneliness. We are not called to loneliness, but rather to community. This is a great challenge for those who are married. How will we incorporate singles so that they can belong and thrive.
Second, this informs us that God’s plan is not to repress us. The cultural narrative is that Christians are sexually repressed. When the two options are marriage and singleness, that leaves out a lot of cohabitation, casual sex, and general immorality. Many unbelievers assert that Christian are crazy for adhering to such things. As Christians, we can affirm that both marriage and singleness are amazing gifts. On this particular Sunday, we affirmed singleness as a gift because our true soulmate is God. God desires us and desires intimate friendship at that. There’s nothing better.
Questions for Further Reflection
(1) If you’re in a group, start with this simple question: What did you hear in the sermon? (as each person shares, the collective memory of the sermon will increased and the most important topics/questions will rise to the surface)
(2) As you grew up, what were you taught about celibacy? Did you ever consider that it might be call from God on your life? Do you know people that pursued it?
(3) Drew pointed out that if we are currently called to singleness, that does not mean we are called to loneliness. We are made in, through, and for relationships, even if we aren’t part of a marital relationship.
- If you are married, how are you creating spaces for the unmarried to belong and thrive?
- If you are unmarried, how are you pursuing community? Are you finding places to belong and thrive?
(4) For other great conversation topics, refer to the blog post from October 3: Celibate Voices Worth Celebrating. In particular, you might discuss this video that contains a succinct statement from Sam Allberry on his spirituality. Many in his audience believe he must either be married to a woman (the conservatives) or to a man (the progressives – he’s more worried about this group). Yet, he says, if we truly believe the Gospel, we ought to believe that the Gospel is hopeful for a celibate man like him.